Wednesday, October 31, 2018

First-Time Homebuyer Watch: 3rd Quarter 2018

Homeownership rate of householders aged 35 to 39, third quarter 2018: 57.5%

The homeownership rate of 35-to-39-year-olds—the nation's first-time home buyers—inched upwards in the third quarter of 2018, rising above 57 percent for only the second time since 2012. Post Great Recession, the homeownership rate of the age group dipped as low as 54.6 percent in 2015. It peaked at 65.7 percent in 2007. The third quarter rate is closer to the bottom than the top, but a slight upward trend in homeownership may be in evidence. 

What about their younger counterparts, aged 30 to 34, who were once the nation's first-time home buyers? Their homeownership rate rose to 48.0 percent in the third quarter of 2018. This is up from 45.9 percent one year earlier, a statistically significant increase. Before the Great Recession, 30-to-34-year-olds were the nation's first-time home buyers (defined as the age group in which the homeownership rate first surpasses 50 percent). But their rate fell below 50 percent in 2011 and has been stuck there ever since. With their recent gains, perhaps 30-to-34-year-olds are on their way to reclaiming first-time homebuyer status.

Nationally, the homeownership rate was 64.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018, up from 63.9 percent one year earlier. The difference is not statistically significant.

Source: Census Bureau, Housing Vacancy Survey

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

One Week Away

Election day is one week away, and many are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for an historic turnout. But midterm elections typically disappoint. Turnout is abysmally low, especially among younger adults, Asians, and Hispanics. Only 41.9 percent of citizens aged 18 or older voted in the last midterm elections in 2014. Here are the 2014 voting rates by age, race, and Hispanic origin...

Percentage of citizens who voted in the 2014 midterm elections
17.1% of 18-to-24-year-olds
32.5% of 25-to-44-year-olds
49.6% of 45-to-54-year-olds
59.4% of people aged 65 or older

27.0% of Hispanics
27.1% of Asians
39.7% of Blacks
45.8% of non-Hispanic Whites

Among voters in the 2014 midterm elections, fully 55 percent were non-Hispanic Whites aged 45 or older. Twenty-four percent were non-Hispanic Whites aged 65 or older. This oldest segment of non-Hispanic White voters accounted for a larger share of the 2014 midterm electorate than Asian, Black, and Hispanic voters combined (23 percent).

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Census Bureau's Historical Reported Voting Rates

Monday, October 29, 2018

Growing Fear of Mass Shootings

The percentage of Americans who are afraid of mass shootings has more than doubled in the past few years, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears.

In 2015, only 16.4 percent of the public was afraid/very afraid of a mass shooting—about equal to the percentage who were afraid of needles and germs and ranking a lowly 56th among the public's top fears. The 2018 survey finds a much larger 41.5 percent of the public afraid of a mass shooting. Fear of mass shootings now ranks 28th on the list of America's biggest fears—just above fear of terrorism (39.8 percent).

Percent who are afraid/very afraid of a mass shooting
2018: 41.5%
2017: 28.1%
2016: 26.9%
2015: 16.4%

Source: Chapman University Survey of American Fears

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Prison to Prison Pipeline

If the purpose of prison is to rehabilitate criminals, then the prison system in the United States is a massive failure. The 60 percent majority of those released from prison after serving their time are arrested again within two years.

This figure comes from a Bureau of Justice Statistics study of recidivism. For nine years the bureau followed a random sample of convicts released from state prisons in 2005. Within one year following release, 44 percent had been arrested again. Within two years, the figure was 60 percent. After nine years, fully 83 percent had been re-arrested.

The rate of recidivism does not vary much by demographic characteristic. Among males, 84 percent were arrested again within nine years. The rate among females was 77 percent. For non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics, the rate was over 80 percent. By age, the rate ranged from a high of 90.1 percent for those released when they were aged 24 or younger to a low of 76.5 percent for those aged 40 or older at the time of release.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005–2014)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Millennial Food Purchasing Patterns

Millennials purchase food differently than older generations, according to a study by the USDA's Economic Research Service. Some of the differences are age related but some may be a sign of changing food preferences, the study suggests. Here are some of the differences...

  • Millennials are least likely to eat at home on an average day. Only 36 percent of Millennial eating occasions occur at home on an average day. Among Gen Xers the figure is 39 percent, Boomers 41 percent, and older Americans 50 percent. 
  • Millennials are most likely to purchase fast food during an average week. In the past week, 62 percent of Millennials had purchased prepared food from a fast-food restaurant, carry-out, or food delivery, the study reports. This compares with 56 percent of Gen Xers, 59 percent of Boomers, and 47 percent of older Americans. 
  • Millennials make the fewest trips to food stores during an average month. Millennial households visit food stores an average of 5.33 times per month. Frequency rises with age. Gen Xers make 6.27 visits to food stores per month, Boomers 7.33, and older Americans 7.78.
  • Millennials spend less than other generations on groceries. Millennials spend $94 per capita on groceries during an average month. Gen Xers spend $102, Boomers $144, and older Americans $159. Regardless of income level, Millennials spend less per capita on groceries than older generations. 
  • Millennial grocery shoppers allocate a larger share of their food dollar to prepared food. When Millennial households shop for groceries, they devote 7.48 percent of their grocery dollar to prepared food. The older generations devote less than 7 percent to prepared food. The USDA defines prepared food as food that requires minimal or no preparation after purchase, such as sandwiches and salads from the grocery deli, prepared chicken, frozen pizza, and so on. 

The food shopping patterns of Millennials are shaped by the fact that most are young adults, the study notes. But there are indications that Millennials have unique food preferences. After controlling for income, for example, the per capita spending of Millennials on fruit matches the spending of older Americans—who are the biggest spenders on fruit. As the income of Millennials rises, their per capita spending on vegetables also rises. "The Millennial generation may have a stronger preference for fruits and vegetables compared to older generations," the study concludes. Another difference: Millennials may have "become accustomed to consuming foods requiring minimal preparation effort."

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, Food Purchase Decisions of Millennial Households Compared to Other Generations

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Low-Fat Diets Aren't Working

If eating high-fat food was the cause of obesity, then Americans would be losing weight. The fat content of the American diet has fallen substantially over the past 35 years, reports the USDA's Economic Research Service. Fat accounted for only 32 percent of the calories consumed by the average person in 2011–14, down from 41 percent in 1977–78. The 32 percent figure is within the level of dietary fat recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.

Americans have significantly reduced the fat in their diet, but they haven't lost weight. Just the opposite, in fact. During the past 35 years, as we opted for lower-fat foods, the percentage of people aged 20 to 74 who are overweight expanded from 47 to 71 percent. Obesity climbed from 15 to 40 percent. If fat is not the culprit, then what is behind the obesity epidemic?

Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, Both at Home and Away, Americans Are Choosing More Lower Fat Foods than They Did 35 Years Ago

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Cash Is Still King, Sort Of

Burglars take note. It is probably not worth your time to break into houses or cars looking for cash. It turns out, few of us keep cash anywhere but in our pockets, wallets, or purses. And the cash we carry doesn't amount to much—only $59, on average. These findings come from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (DCPC), a collaborative effort of the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, and San Francisco.

The latest DCPC survey was fielded in October 2017 and asked a nationally representative sample of respondents to record on a daily basis how much cash they had on their person or stored in their home, car, or office; what payments they made; and how they paid—cash, debit cards, credit cards, electronic transfer, etc. According to the survey results, while most consumers have cash on their person, just 22 percent have at least $1 stored elsewhere. Those who stash cash have an average of $738 squirreled away.

Americans use cash for 30 percent of their transactions during a typical month, the single largest method of payment. But cash accounts for only 8.5 percent of the total value of payments made during a month. Here is a look at the number of transactions made by the average person during a month by payment method...

Number of transactions per month (and average amount per transaction) by type of payment
12.4 cash transactions ($23)
10.7 debit card transactions ($47)
8.6 credit card transactions ($61)
2.5 checks written ($238)
2.2 other* methods ($180)
2.0 bank account number payments ($310)
1.7 online banking bill pay ($256)
0.7 prepaid cards ($26)
0.1 money orders ($275)

* Other methods include PayPal, account-to-account transfers, mobile payments, and deductions from income.

The average American makes payments amounting to $3,418 during a month. Interestingly, the average number of payments made during a month fell from 46 in 2016 to 41 in 2017—a statistically significant drop. The reason for the decline is not known.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, The 2017 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice

Monday, October 22, 2018

This is the 3,000th Post

This is Demo Memo's 3,000th blog post. I know this because demographers like to count things. In the 12 years Demo Memo has been online, this blog has spotted and tracked a lot of demographic trends. It has reported on many groundbreaking studies. It has kept its readers up-to-date on the government's latest survey results.

Demo Memo began in 2006 with this post and continued on from there to report on the first signs of the housing collapse, the historic decline in the mobility rate, the rising age at first marriage, the steep loss in net worth, the beginnings of the baby bust, fun things like the Tchotchke Index and its updates, and a favorite of Demo Memo—technological adoption of cell phones, smartphones, and the internet.

More recently, Demo Memo has been examining why small-town America is in decline, when minorities will become the majority of voters, the resistance to self-driving cars, the 30-year low in births, the early peak in the non-Hispanic White population, the decline of life expectancy, and the extraordinary rise in spending on pets.

Demo Memo has been a lot of work and also a lot of fun. Here's to 3,000 more!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Who's Afraid of Illegal Immigrants?

Although President Trump has attempted to instill in the American public a fear of undocumented immigrants, his efforts have failed to persuade most of us. In fact, a larger share of the public is afraid of Trump himself (59 percent) than of illegal immigrants (41 percent), according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears...

Fear of illegal immigrants
59.3% are not afraid
19.3% are slightly afraid
12.2% are afraid
  9.3% are very afraid

Source: Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Fear of Immigration

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Americans Are More Afraid, Survey Finds

Americans are increasingly afraid. This is one of the most striking findings from the 2018 Chapman University Survey of American Fears. This year as in past years, the number one fear—mentioned by the largest share of the public—is fear of corrupt government officials. But the percentage of Americans who say government corruption scares them has climbed, rising from 61 to 74 percent between 2016 and 2018.

Corruption is not the only thing Americans are increasingly frightened about, Chapman University reports. Many things are scaring them more. In fact, all of the top 10 fears in 2018 scare more than half the public. In 2016, most of the top 10 fears scared only about one-third of the public.

Top 10 fears of 2018 (percent saying they are afraid)
1. Corrupt government officials: 74%
2. Pollution of oceans rivers, and lakes: 62%
3. Pollution of drinking water: 61%
4. Not enough money for the future: 57%
5. Someone you love will become seriously ill: 57%
6. People you love dying: 56%
7. Air pollution: 55%
8. Extinction of plant and animal species: 54%
9. Global warming and climate change: 53%
10. High medical bills: 53%

Another trend Chapman University sees in the list of fears is the rise of environmental concerns. Five of the top 10 fears of 2018 are environmental. In 2016, the number of environmental concerns in the top 10 list was zero.

Source: Chapman University Survey of American Fears, America's Top Fears 2018

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

How Wrong Are the Official Counts of Gig Work?

Eyebrows were raised a few months ago when the Bureau of Labor Statistics Contingent Worker Supplement revealed no growth in the alternative workforce between 2005 (the last time the survey was taken) and 2017, despite the apparent growth of the gig economy. Surprise turned to dismay when the Bureau admitted its failure to successfully measure "electronically mediated employment"— or gig work arranged and paid for through online platforms.

Could it be that the Bureau of Labor Statistics' effort to measure a growing and vital segment of the workforce is way off track? The answer is yes. Although study after study after study finds a substantial percentage of Americans participating in the gig economy, these workers are eluding the government's official efforts to measure them.

There's a reason for this. The employment questions asked by the monthly Current Population Survey, which is the official measure of the labor force, do not capture informal work activity. This is the finding of a National Bureau of Economic Research study by Katharine G. Abraham of the University of Maryland and Ashley Amaya of RTI International.

The Current Population Survey asks respondents whether they did any work for 'pay' or 'profit' during the survey reference week. It also asks whether respondents have more than one 'job' or 'business.' Abraham and Amaya have a problem with these questions, which were formulated years ago when the labor force was less complex: "It is not clear...that respondents are likely to think of money earned through informal work activity as either 'pay' or 'profit' or to consider such activity to be a 'job' or 'business.'" To test this hypothesis, they surveyed Mechanical Turk (Amazon's crowdsourcing platform) participants and asked respondents not only the standard CPS employment questions but also additional questions to probe for informal work activity.

What a difference those additional questions made. Fully 22 percent of respondents had engaged in additional work activity in the past week that would have been missed by the CPS. Among those identified by the CPS questions as having no work activity in the past week, 23.5 percent had engaged in informal paid work. Among those identified by the CPS as having one job in the past week, 23.3 percent were engaging in informal work as well. Among those the CPS identified as having two jobs, an additional 15.9 percent also performed informal paid work on top of their busy schedules. Those who engaged in informal work in the past week devoted a substantial 8.2 hours, on average, to the activity.

The researchers admit that their Mechanical Turk sample is not representative of the U.S. population as a whole. But, they say, their findings "provide important evidence about the sensitivity of survey estimates to asking more probing questions." It's too late for this insight to make a difference in the long-awaited (12 years!) 2017 Contingent Worker Supplement, which took "as its starting point the employment reported in response to the standard CPS questions." Let's hope the Bureau of Labor Statistics will take these findings seriously and field a better survey of the gig workforce—ASAP.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, Probing for Informal Work Activity, Working Paper 24880 ($5)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rural Residents Are Big Spenders on Transportation

Households in rural areas spend slightly less than their urban counterparts. The average rural household spent $58,241 in 2017, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey—4 percent less than the $60,468 spent by the average urban household. But, not surprisingly, rural households are the biggest spenders on several transportation categories...

  • Vehicle purchases: Rural households own more vehicles than urban households (2.6 versus 1.8), and they spend 28 percent more than the average household on vehicle purchases. Their spending is particularly high (48 percent above average) on used vehicles. Households in urban areas spend 6 percent less than average on vehicle purchases.
  • Vehicle finance charges: Rural households spend 31 percent more than average on vehicle finance charges. Urban households spend 7 percent less than average. 
  • Gasoline: Rural households spend 26 percent more than average on gasoline. Households in urban areas spend 6 percent less than average. 
  • Vehicle maintenance/repair: Rural households spend 53 percent more than average on vehicle repair. Households in urban areas spend 12 percent less.

Because their spending is above average on these items, rural households are the biggest spenders on the overall transportation category. The average rural household spent $11,466 on transportation in 2017—$2,315 more than the $9,151 spent by the average urban household. Rural residents devote 20 percent of their household budget to transportation. For urban households, the figure is 15 percent.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditure Survey

Monday, October 15, 2018

What Would You Do To Stay Employed?

Among the nation's employed adults, here are the percentages who would be willing to do the following to avoid being unemployed...

87% would be willing to learn new skills
74% would accept temporary employment
60% would accept a longer commute
56% would accept lower pay
40% would be willing to move within the United States
17% would be willing to move to another country

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the 2016 General Social Survey

Friday, October 12, 2018

37% Eat Fast Food on an Average Day

Fast food is a staple of the American diet. More than one-third (37 percent) of adults aged 20 or older eat fast food on an average day, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The NCHS defines fast food as food sourced from a fast-food restaurant or pizza. Young adults are most likely to eat fast food, older adults least likely...

Percent eating fast food on an average day
Aged 20 to 39: 45%
Aged 40 to 59: 38%
Aged 60-plus: 24%

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Fast Food Consumption among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Three Generations of Married-Couple Households

It is difficult to grasp just how much living arrangements have changed in the United States unless you mine the Census Bureau's archives to uncover the nitty gritty of the way we used to live. The most dramatic change over the decades is the decline in the share of households headed by married couples. In three generations, the share of all households headed by married couples fell 26 percentage points—from 74 to just 48 percent. Among the youngest adults, the drop is a stunning 68 percentage points! Here is the married-couple share of households by age of householder today (2018), one generation ago (1990), and two generations ago (1960)...

Percent of households headed by married couples
     2018     1990     1960
Total households     48.0%     55.3%     74.2%
Under age 25     14.3     31.9     82.3
Aged 25 to 34     41.5     54.1     86.9
Aged 35 to 44     56.9     62.2     84.4
Aged 45 to 54     55.0     63.8     76.5
Aged 55 to 64     52.9     63.1     67.9
Aged 65 or older     44.2     44.0     51.1

What replaced all those married couples? Single-parent families, single-person households, and people living together outside of marriage. These once uncommon living arrangements were the consequence of rising educational attainment and women's growing economic independence. The steep decline in married couples reveals much of the social change of the past half century.

Source: Demo Memo analysis of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

How Many Are Watching TV at Midnight?

On an average day, 79 percent of Americans aged 15 or older watch television as a primary activity—meaning their main activity at the time. The percentage who watch television is lowest among 15-to-19-year-olds (73 percent) and highest among people aged 65 or older (89 percent). These facts come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey.

The survey collects even more detail about the activities in which people engage on an average day. It records the time of day, for example, and whether respondents are alone or with others. Here is the percentage of Americans aged 15 or older who are watching television at selected hours of the day...

Percent watching television
6% are watching from midnight to 1 am
1% are watching from 3 to 4 am (lowest point)
13% are watching from noon to 1 pm
38% are watching from 6 to 7 pm
59% are watching from 8 to 9 pm (highest point)

For many, watching television is a solitary activity. Forty-eight percent of television time is spent alone, 52 percent with others.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Television, Capturing America's Attention at Prime Time and Beyond

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

What's Wrong with the White Working Class?

When the white working class sneezes, America catches a cold. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis examines what may be ailing America in an analysis of trends in the wellbeing of this largest segment of Americans. It defines the white working class as households headed by non-Hispanic Whites without a four-year college degree. The white working class accounts for the 42 percent plurality of the nation's households. Another 26 percent are headed by whites with a college degree and 32 percent are headed by Blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities.

Using data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, researchers at the Fed analyzed trends in the socioeconomic wellbeing of the white working class, comparing its experience over the past few decades to that of college educated whites and to nonwhites. Relative to the other segments, the white working class has declined...
  • The share of income accruing to the white working class fell from 45 percent in 1989 to 27 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, the share of income accruing to college educated whites and to nonwhites increased. 
  • The share of wealth accruing to the white working class fell from 45 percent in 1989 to 22 percent in 2016. At the same time the share of wealth accruing to college educated whites and to nonwhites increased. 
  • The median household income and median net worth of white working class households has fallen relative to the national medians, and their homeownership rate, marriage rate, and self-reported health status also have deteriorated.
These declines may be "the result of circumstances unique to the white working class," say the researchers. The circumstances include: 1) rising high school graduation rates for Blacks and Hispanics, which has increased the competition with nonwhites for jobs; 2) less racial and ethnic discrimination in the labor market, which has increased the competition with nonwhites for jobs; and 3) globalization, which has reduced job opportunities.

"The long-term decline of the white working class may be due, in part, to the reduction over time of their previous advantages over nonwhite working classes," the study concludes.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall: The Decline of the White Working Class

Monday, October 08, 2018

Many Americans Believe in Reincarnation

One in three adults (33 percent) believes in reincarnation, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Even among those who profess to be neither religious nor spiritual, a substantial 22 percent believe in it.

Women (39 percent) are more likely than men (27 percent) to believe in reincarnation. Blacks (43 percent) and Hispanics (37 percent) are more likely to believe than non-Hispanic Whites (29 percent). By education, college graduates are least likely to believe (24 percent) while those with no more than a high school diploma are most likely (39 percent). Here is the percentage who believe in reincarnation by age...

Believe in reincarnation
Aged 18 to 29: 39%
Aged 30 to 49: 34%
Aged 50 to 64: 34%
Aged 65-plus: 22%

Source: Pew Research Center: 'New Age' Beliefs Common among both Religious and Nonreligious Americans

Friday, October 05, 2018

One in Five Young Adults Vapes

Among Americans aged 18 or older, only 9 percent say they occasionally or regularly vape (use e-cigarettes). But the vaping rate is much higher among young adults, with 20 percent vaping and a smaller 16 percent smoking cigarettes...

Percent who occasionally/regularly vape (or smoke cigarettes)
Aged 18 to 29: 20% (16%)
Aged 30 to 49:   9% (23%)
Aged 50 to 64:   7% (26%)
Aged 65-plus:    0% (10%)

Source: Gallup, Young People Adopt Vaping as their Smoking Rate Plummets

Thursday, October 04, 2018

How Long Are the Golden Years?

Just how long are the golden years? If you are nearing retirement, how many years can you and your spouse expect to spend together? This is not an easy calculation. The answer is not simply the shorter life expectancy of the husband. Instead, the calculation of joint life expectancy requires incorporating the probabilities of both husband and wife surviving in each successive year.

It's a tedious job, say economists Janice Compton and Robert A. Pollack, but they did it. Their results are published in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, which examines trends in joint life expectancy over time and by race, Hispanic origin, and education. They illustrate their findings throughout the paper by considering a wife aged 60 married to a husband aged 62. "We focus on 60 year old wives and their husbands because these are ages at which many couples make crucial retirement-related decisions such as leaving career employment and claiming social security benefits," the authors explain. Here are some of the findings by race, Hispanic origin, and education based on life expectancy stats in 2010...

Joint life expectancy for wife at 60 and husband at 62 (and probability wife will be survivor)
Blacks: 15.45 years (63%)
Hispanics: 18.79 years (65%)
Non-Hispanic Whites: 17.66 years (63%)

Neither is a college graduate: 15.53 years (65%)
Only wife is a college graduate: 17.17 years (68%)
Only husband is a college graduate: 18.31 years (59%)
Both are college graduates: 18.99 years (63%)

Joint life expectancy has expanded over the decades as individual life expectancy has grown, the researchers find. For non-Hispanic White couples, joint life expectancy has stretched from just 12.06 years in 1950 to the 17.66 years of 2010. Black couples can look forward to 15.45 golden years, up from just 9.99 in 1950.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research, The Life Expectancy of Older Couples and Surviving Spouses, Working Paper 25009 ($5)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

An Historic Moment in Tech Adoption

We may be at an historic moment. "The share of Americans who go online, use social media, or own key devices has remained stable the past two years," reports Pew Research Center. Pew knows because it has been surveying these things for decades, all the way back to 1994, when the percentage of people who "use the Internet" was just 6 percent.

According to Pew's 2018 survey, 89 percent of American adults use the Internet, 77 percent own a smartphone, 73 percent own a desktop or laptop computer, 69 percent are on social media, and 53 percent have a tablet computer. These percentages are nearly identical to the 2016 figures. Behind the stability is the "near-saturation levels of adoption of some technologies. Put simply, in some instances there just aren't many non-users left."

That's not to say technological change has come to a halt. The Internet of Things is rising, says Pew, with the growing use of smart TVs, wearable devices, digital voice assistants, and so on. But we are in a new phase, and "the method for tracking certain adoption metrics may need to change." Pew's panel of experts, for example, has advised Pew that it may want to stop asking people whether they "use the Internet." The reason? That's like asking them if they use electricity. A silly question.

Source: Pew Research Center, Internet, Social Media Use and Device Ownership in U.S. Have Plateaued after Years of Growth

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

BLS: Don't Do What We Did

Wow, what a mess. In a 33-page Monthly Labor Review article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics explains its delay in releasing the data on what it calls "electronically-mediated work"—defined as "short jobs or tasks that workers find through websites or mobile apps that both connect them with customers and arrange payment for the tasks." Here is the key sentence:
"BLS should not again attempt to collect data about electronically mediated work using the four new questions fielded in the May 2017 CWS [Contingent Worker Survey]."
In other words, the first attempt made by the BLS to count the number of electronically-mediated workers was a failure.

Some background: In June, the BLS released its estimate of the gig workforce, measured by a special supplement to the 2017 Current Population Survey. The results were surprising, showing no growth or even decline in the gig workforce since 2005. But the survey did not include those who engaged in electronically-mediated work. These figures would be revealed, said the BLS, before September 30 in a Monthly Labor Review article. As promised, the article appeared on the BLS web site on Friday, September 28th. It is a sorry tale of earnest efforts to add four questions on electronically-mediated work to the Contingent Worker Supplement of the Current Population Survey and the flawed numbers that resulted from those efforts.

So flawed were the results, in fact, that the BLS was forced to recode the answers. There were too many false positives. To recode, BLS statisticians probed the survey's microdata files for clues as to whether respondents were or were not actually engaged in electronically-mediated work. The "yes" answers to the survey's four questions summed to 5 million respondents engaging in electronically-mediated work in the past week, or 3.3 percent of the nation's employed workers. But after probing the microdata and diligently recoding, BLS statisticians reduced the number to just 1.6 million, or 1.0 percent of the employed.

"If BLS were to collect data about electronically mediated work in the future," the article concludes, "questions would need to be substantially revised. It may simply be that the concepts are too complicated for four questions to properly identify all the information BLS was attempting to measure." Kudos to the BLS for being forthcoming about this failure, but we're back to square one in our understanding of the size and shape of the gig economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, Electronically mediated work: new questions in the Contingent Worker Supplement

Monday, October 01, 2018

20% Consume Seafood at Least Twice a Week

Seafood is good for you because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains. That's why the federal government recommends eating at least two servings a week of fish and/or shellfish. Just 20 percent of adults aged 20 or older meet this guideline, consuming seafood at least twice a week. The figure does not vary much by age or sex. There is more variation by race and Hispanic origin...

Percent of people aged 20 or older who consume seafood at least twice a week
Asians: 41.2%
Blacks: 22.6%
Hispanics: 14.5%
Non-Hispanic Whites: 18.7%

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Seafood Consumption in the United States, 2013–2016